Monday, January 31, 2011

The Treachery of Images

Against my better judgement, I picked up Charles Simic's Master of Disguises (I should have gone for The World Doesn't End). Having never read Mr. Simic's work, I'm not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn't this. For all of his deftness with the technical apparatus of the English language and the lucidity of his images, there's something lacking.

Specifically, mystery.

In fact, these poems seem to do everything within their power to make sure the reader is never left guessing. While some readers may delight in their directness, I find it completely boring. Thankfully he has a sense of humor ("On the use of murder to improve the world"), but even this cannot save his book from being the first really underwhelming book of poetry I've read in 2011.

That's not to say that reading it hasn't been a valuable experience for me. It made me explicitly aware of how important mystery is to me when involved in reading/writing. As a reader, it brings me back for a second look or, long after I've closed the book, it teases my thoughts to assemble the puzzle. As a writer, that uncertainty pushes me forward as I try to figure out a way to say the ineffable. Either way, mystery is generative.

This brings us to the title of this post, named after the famous painting of a pipe by Magritte. Recently I stumbled upon this quote, out of context, by the painter:

"People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking, 'what does this mean?' they express a wish that everything is understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

It's those other things that I'm interested in experiencing, which is why Simic's book fails to impress me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes on Faith and Skepticism

Someone in the 20th Century drew a line in the sand of literary history. On one side was Modernism; on the other, everything else.

Okay, that didn't actually happen, but the way some people talk about it you could swear it did. These attempts at defining the avant-garde(s) as a cohesive movement or style (it is not) make me wonder: is there any single characteristic they all share?

If there is, it is skepticism. Skepticism of language. Skepticism about the legitmacy of any body of authority. Skepticism that our social and political realities will improve in the future. Skepticism that they can improve. Skepticism of narrative.

I could go on.

On the other side(s) of things, there seems to be an underlying sense of faith. Above all, a faith in the ability of language to deliver an experience. Faith our narratives will have an ending that, if not happy, will at least provide closure. Faith that our experiences are meaningful.

How can we be sure?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It feels like it should today

On February 15th, Sonic Youth is re-pressing the vinyl of Bad Moon Rising. This will make all of their early work (Sonic Youth, Confusion is Sex, EVOL, and Sister) freely available on wax for the first time in a long time. While I doubt I'll be snagging the bundle, I will at the very least snag Sister, my favorite album of theirs to date. Go get your copies here.

These reissues have got me thinking about the trajectory of their career, from the Can and Glenn Branca-inspired beginnings to their current position as a cultural institution. The 1980s, when they began, were much more violently experimental. Punk rock had come and gone, and for all of those bands flirting with Anarchy, most proved to be interested in playing no-bullshit rock and roll, which wasn't a bad thing.

From the begining, Sonic Youth had a different idea in mind. Their first effort, by comparison to their No Wave peers, sounds relatively tame. For all of its atonality and dissonance, the songs on their first EP still sounded like songs. Their follow-up, Confusion is Sex, is much louder, abrasive, and adventurous. Imagine going to a concert in 1983 and hearing this:

Now compare that with this:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why not merely the despaired of occasion of wordshed

The first batch of invitations has been sent for the second issue of the magazine. It's a slow start, but once I get some work, I'll begin scoping out reams of paper and shopping around for cover art and a plate block to be made.

I'm still in recovery mode from the new year, as I had friends visit for a long weekend, one that we spent running around the city trying pack as much possible into three days.

Other than that, reading Bolano's The Savage Detectives and tapping out occasional poems on my typewriter.